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Council Members Debate Good and Welfare Time Limits
Both council chairman Mark Bates and sponsor David Ball referred to the wait by visitor’s with business to conduct before the deliberative body. Often, on contractual matters and departmental related issues, a business owner or city department head comes to the meeting to answer questions (if any) posed by council members.
The August 8 meeting had an higher than usual number of speakers, which delayed the initiation of council business until about 8:15 p.m.
Ball stated that per Robert’s Rules of Order Good and Welfare should be at the conclusion of meetings.
The time limitation generated further clarification.
Bates explained that speakers have three minutes to speak in response to second reading and resolutions, but council changed the rule to allow five minutes for the Good and Welfare portion.
Acknowledging that the shift would bring council “full circle”, Bates has concluded that asking for a “waiver of the rules” by council to extend the time is a better method than allowing five minutes. “Some of the chatter that goes on can be shut down.”
Councilman Rick Simmons asked whether the “waiver” could be at the chair’s discretion, rather than “stopping the meeting and going through the rule waiver”.
Bates countered that the “waiver” consensus takes “approximately 30 seconds".
Council woman Joyce Clark said, “We have the wherewithal to decide if the person needs a little more time”.
However, councilman Pete Gilespie pointed out that under the five minute standard, there has not been a necessity to repeatedly vote for rule waivers. “I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with three minutes. I’d be more comfortable with four minutes.”
Ball responded, “Can you give me a reason? I’m not trying to make anyone be quiet. I do not want to silence any citizen. I do not want to take away anybody’s right to speak before us. But, if we have three minutes in our rules, people (might) behave better and not using time unnecessarily. Let’s give ourselves the ability to control our (council) meeting. We can always extend time.”
Simmons agreed, “I’m all for (voting) to give more time. I do not want to see our peers being threatened or reveled on like in the past. As long as we can give them more time, I don’t want to take away anyone’s voice.”
On the other hand, vice chairman Sandra Clements supported the five minute status quo.
“Sometimes it takes longer to get the flow to go. Sometimes there will be people that will abuse that and do whatever they want to do.”
Clements , Ms. Thacker and Gillespie indicated that the three minute limit imposes a pressure on the speaker.
Simmons declared himself “on the fence” at that juncture.
Ball added, “We will give anyone that needs time, absolutely.” Then, he illustrated his concern, “You saw what happened at the last council meeting. This is to try and get control over these council chambers. We can extend the time to 15 minutes if we like.”
Simmons said, “What happened the other night went beyond city council”, prompting a request for an opinion from Police Chief Skip Holbrook. Mayor Steve Williams took the podium instead.
“We are not going to weigh in”, Williams said on behalf of the administration. “It’s your meeting. If things get out of hand the chairman gavels the body into recess. We’re here to do the city’s business as you see fit.”
Although the Good and Welfare matter appears still in the thinking it over phase, Bates after the meeting clarified a few hypotheticals for HNN. For instance, should a contingent of citizens attend and sign to speak on an urgent topic, the aforementioned waiver of the rules could be by majority vote used as a tool to place G and F back to the opening position on the agenda.
In addition, Mayor Williams clarified the administration and council’s assessment of response to questions.
“I’m willing to answer any question from a council member", Williams said, stressing that in the past both Mayor Wolfe and Mayor Felinton injected their response. In actuality, the chair of council and/or a member of council should have requested an answer from the administration to the speaker’s questions.